CARSON -- Armando Flores' ability to read the game, to have a plan before the ball gets to him, impressed the big names watching over the “Sueño MLS” finals this week at Home Depot Center.
Jimmy Camacho's personality, and how he uses it to guide his defenders, also stood out.
They were the last standing Sunday morning at Home Depot Center, both earning a one-year stint in Chivas USA's academy program after winning Major League Soccer's televised talent search.
Flores, a 17-year-old forward from Santa Ana, was chosen as the “Sueño” winner over 14 other field players selected through tryouts run by the Goats, FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders. Camacho, 16, from Riverside, finished ahead of two competitors for the accompanying goalkeeper honor.
Flores is the third Chivas USA entrant to win the seventh-year “reality show,” which progresses in segments on Univision's “Republica Deportivo,” which broadcast the announcement from the entrance plaza at HDC, following in the footsteps of midfielder/defender Jorge Villafaña (2007), who is with the Goats' first team, and midfielder Briant Reyes (2008).
Flores, a two-time All-CIF Southern Section selection at Santa Ana Valley High School who plays for Mission Viejo Soccer Club, celebrated with his family afterward and dedicated the honor to his mother, Francisca.
“She's always been here for me when I needed her,” he said. “Everytime I came home, she wouldn't always see me because she'd be working. It was hard watching here work two jobs and only seeing her 30 minutes because she had to go to another work, but she was always there for me, and really thank her, becaiuse she took care of me good, and I love her, you know?”
Mom was ecstatic, too: “I'm so happy my son accomplished something he has always dreamed about. ... This is the best gift I've received in all my years.”
Flores steps into the Chivas Academy on Monday, the start of what he hopes will be a trek toward soccer stardom. So does Camacho, whose magnetic personality stood out at the Goats' tryouts two weeks ago in Bell Gardens and again the past week.
“This is just the first step,” said Camacho, who has starred at Citrus Hill High School and for Arsenal FC in Alta Loma and Laguna Hills Soccer Club. “There's keepers at the Chivas Academy, there's keepers everywhere, and they're going to try just as hard as me. I've just got to work hard, stay humble and keep going. This is just the first step.”
The scouts -- former Mexican national team goalkeeper Felix Fernandez and Adolfo Rios, 2008 MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto, former U.S. star Jeff Agoos and former New York/Tampa Bay coach Alfonso Mondelo, who is MLS's director of player programs -- reported that everyone at the finals has professional promise. Whether they progress into pros is up to them.
“They have to play hard, they have to play in the academy,” said Schelotto, an Argentine forward who led the Columbus Crew to the 2008 MLS Cup title after a decade at Boca Juniors. “They have the technique and they have the level to be professionals. But they have to train hard.”
Schelotto said Flores' ability to read the game was special: “When the ball is coming, he knows what he will do. ... Few players know what to do when the ball is coming, and he knows.”
Rios praised Camacho as “a quick goalie [who] likes to take risks, and he's very brave,” said former Mexican national team goalkeeper Adolfo Rios, one of the coaches assessing Sueño talent. “He likes to keep the ball and control the team and provide direction. That's one of the things you need as a goalie.”
Meeting Rios, Fernandez and Schelotto were almost as thrilling as winning.
“Here are my childhood idols: El Guille, Felix and Adolfo,” Camacho said. “They have been training me all this week. It's been an extremely great pleasure and an honor. These are people that I saw on TV, and I never imagined they'd be giving me this trophy. Now they're here. They're my friends now. They're my mentors.”
Carson's George Zuniga (Firebaugh HS), a 16-year-old defender, was runner-up for the Sueño honor, and a fourth Chivas entrant, Los Angeles' Mauricio Gutierrez (Locke HS), 16, was among the five finalists. Chivas' other final-week participants were Sylmar's Alejandro Nuñez (Granada Hills HS), 17, and Las Vegas' Oscar Velazquez, 16. All have been invited to train with Chivas' academy, as have several players who did not make the final 18.
The other two to make the final five were forward Jose Hernandez, 16, from Dallas, who came through FC Dallas' tryouts, and forward Ivan Marmolejo, 17, from Orondo, Wash., who emerged from the Seattle Sounders' sessions.